Liberal Failures On Climate Policy Are An Ideal Topic For Conservatives

The Liberal promises on climate change have been grand and ambitious. The track record so far is an incoherent failure.

They have been in power for six and a half years. In their most recent campaign platform they claimed to have taken action to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and set a new goal to reduce emissions by 40-45% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

They must be hoping that voters don’t check on how they are doing. By 2019 that reduction had amounted to 1%. The independent Climate Action Tracker forecasts a reduction of less than 5% by 2030 based on policies in place today. It’s overall rating for Canada is “Highly Insufficient.”

The incoherence is everywhere.

(1) In February Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland disclosed that the cost to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline had ballooned 70% to $21.4-billion and the expansion now won’t be complete until late 2023. All of the money spent so far has been borrowed as part of the Liberal’s vast deficit.

She then said that instead of public cash, Trans Mountain will secure the funding necessary in capital markets. In other words they replace borrowing with more borrowing. The only possible difference is that the project may, by that method, pay a higher than necessary interest rate on the new loans.

(2) In the throne speech 18 months ago the government promised the Atlantic Loop “that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal.” Natural Resources minister Seamus O’Regan told CBC news, “We would build transmission lines to tie the Labrador-Quebec grid into New Brunswick, and then into Nova Scotia.”

To date there is no plan of action, nor even an indication of what route the loop might follow.

(3) The Liberals have paid no attention to energy security. We will be oil consumers for many more years. Yet Ottawa has shown little concern for the ability of eastern provinces to source oil, blocking a proposed pipeline from Alberta.

Instead, they have made us dependant on providers like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia. The sanctions on Russia from the Ukraine invasion are likely to create lasting supply problems for eastern Canada.

(4) Then there is the matter of the carbon tax. The valid premise is that making it more expensive to emit greenhouse gases when gasoline or coal are burnt will result in prices that discourage consumption. This works well when oil prices are stable, but they are not. With oil at $110 the price of gasoline is through the roof. The tax should be reduced when the cost of oil spikes, and increased beyond its planned level if oil costs get too low.

(5) The biggest problem is that the Liberals have presented no credible tabulation of how the power needs of the future will be met. Wind and solar have their place but there are definite limits on how far that can go without big additions to sources that can balance their intermittent and unpredictable production.

Hydroelectricity is an excellent candidate. But there are limits on how much of that can be developed, and how fast. A project to be completed by the end of this decade would need to be already underway if the experience at Muskrat Falls, the Site C dam in British Columbia, or the Keeyask project in Manitoba are any indication.

(6) Simply replacing the electricity coming from fossil fuels today is not nearly enough. If buildings currently heated by fossil fuels and vehicles currently burning gasoline are to be powered electrically there will be a dramatic increase in the demand.

In addition, Canada’s population is projected to increase by about 5 million people by 2040. It is like adding another Alberta.

Most provinces, in particular Ontario, are not blessed with large hydroelectric potential. Another carbon-free source will be needed and the most likely candidate is nuclear.

As noted in this space three years ago, nuclear power has issues. Like hydro, its building costs are high and hard to control. Disposing of spent fuel is difficult. Accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima are exceedingly rare but seriously destructive when they happen.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of plants operate without issues for decades. France was an early adopter and gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear plants. Ontario gets almost 60% and is using it to phase out coal.

The Conservatives need to change the channel from identity politics. They should be having a field day with this. Don’t fight the carbon tax, just amend it to keep the price of gasoline high but stable. Commit to caring about energy security for all parts of the country. Provide what the Liberals manifestly lack: a credible plan for providing the needed electricity as fossil fuels are phased out.


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Reference Material

Power Plays

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The Unintended Consequences of the Atlantic Loop

How Canada Intends to Achieve its 2030 Emissions Targets

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Slides from recent NSPI Presentation

The Power Mess on Long Island

Primer on the Process of Hydraulic Fracturing

Nova Scotia Hydraulic Fracturing Review and Public Consultation

Contributions of Utilities Regulation to Electrical Systems Transformation: the Case of Nova Scotia

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